A government scheme launched in Madhya Pradesh to help malnourished children is yet to make a major impact.
The Bal Shakti scheme was unveiled to aid the 5.7 million malnourished children of the state, most of them less than three years in age, Grassroots Features reported.
Two-and-a-half-year-old Prem Bai, a Sahariya tribal couple's daughter from Amolpath village, was 4.2 kg when she was brought to the Bal Shakti Centre in Shivpuri's district headquarters a week ago.
But instead of showing improvement with regular diet, her weight dropped to four kilos.
On the other hand, two-year-old Sujan from Ejwaya village in Pauri block weighed five kilos when admitted to the Bal Shakti camp. A week later he weighed 5.9 kg.
The verdict on the Bal Shakti scheme is mixed. Programme Officer Shiv Kumar Sharma observed: "About 1,000 children have visited the special treatment centres since January. But only 50 children came back for further treatment."
Of the 5.7 million malnourished children in the state, 55 percent are less than three years old, 51 percent are stunted, and 75 percent are anaemic.
Mortality rate at 498 per 100,000 live births is one the highest in the country. The infant mortality rate stands at 87 per 1,000 live births.
When the scheme was launched four years ago, malnourished children were identified in the far-flung hamlets of Shivpuri district. This year the authorities went a step further - they brought these children to the three centres, kept them under observation, and fed them nutritious food for a week.
"There may have been 20 percent deaths among severely malnourished children.
But if it wasn't for the Bal Shakti scheme, 30 percent children would have been dead. We have been able to save some lives. An appraisal is underway," Sharma said when asked about the impact of the scheme.
Shivpuri district is one of the most malnourished. According to Sharma 53 percent children in Shivpuri are malnourished. "Of the 190,446 children who were weighed in 2001, 53.2 percent were found to be malnourished; 4,531 were severely malnourished and needed immediate assistance," he said.
While some children gained weight at the centre, many parents were disappointed with the result.
To encourage women to bring their children to the centre they are given a cheque of Rs.33 every day. They are also asked to bring their husbands along. The men get work at government sites. Siblings are sent to pre-school centres.
The scheme has its critics. Right to Food, a civil society group, is one. It feels the scheme is a drop in the ocean in a state where existing nutrition programmes like the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) have been neglected.
"There are 10.6 million children in the age group 0-6," a Right to Food spokesperson said. "Only 2.33 million or 22 percent children have been brought under the ICDS. Allocations made by governments for nutrition have shown little or no increase in recent years."
Shivpuri district officials maintain their initiative has been a success, and NGOs are too uncharitable. "Let them take up one block, and show us if they can remove malnutrition there before they criticise our efforts," Sharma said.